Sore throat

Updated 15 August 2016

5 myths you probably believe about tonsillitis

Tonsillectomy. Sore throat. Ice cream. Check how much you really know about the tonsils and what it means when they’re infected.

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Tonsillitis may sound like a health condition that was popular a few decades ago, but in fact it’s still around and might affect you or your family. How many of these myths do you believe?

Read: Tonsillitis

Myth: Tonsils are useless

Although the exact role of tonsils is still a debated issue, they are thought to play a part in the immune system, especially in younger children. However, recent studies have shown that there’s no adverse effect on the immune systems of children who have had their tonsils removed.

Myth: Tonsillitis is always caused by bacteria

Some cases of tonsillitis can be caused by mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. This infection (also known as glandular fever) is usually mild, but can be more serious, especially in adults. Bacterial cases of tonsillitis are most commonly caused by the Streptococcus bacterium, which should be treated, as it can in rare cases lead to complications such as ear infections, rheumatic fever, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Health24's CyberDoc, Dr Heidi van Deventer, explains that it should be relatively easy for your doctor to diagnose which kind of tonsillitis it is: "Usually, during in the case of bacterial tonsillitis, the tonsils are red and have little white spots on them, which is pus, caused by the bacterial infection."

Myth: You can’t catch tonsillitis from someone else

You can definitely pick up either a viral or a bacterial infection from another person, which is why you must be careful about hygiene such as washing your hands when caring for a child who is sick with tonsillitis.

Myth: Infected tonsils only cause sore throat

Swollen, infected tonsils are associated with snoring and sleep apnoea, which can lead to chronically bad rest and a host of other potential health issues. Sleep apnoea has been associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and memory loss, as well as severely affecting a child’s performance at school.

Other potential symptoms of tonsillitis include

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Ear pain
  • Bad breath
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A high temperature
  • Headache

Read: Symptoms of tonsilitis

Myth: Doctors don’t do tonsillectomies anymore

In a case where there are serious repeat infections that are making you sick regularly, a doctor will still recommend a tonsillectomy. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), tonsillectomy is the second most common childhood surgery. In the United Kingdom, the number of surgeries has also fallen considerably over the past decades, but about 30 000 are still done every year.

Read more:

What is tonsillitis?

Diagnosing tonsillitis

Natural approach to tonsillitis

References:

EurekAlert: Trouble sleeping? The size of your tongue and tonsils could be why. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-03/uab-tst030816.php

American Academy of Otolaryngology: Top Five 'Myths' of Tonsillectomy. http://www.entusa.com/pdf_downloads/TOP%205%20MYTHS%20OF%20TONSILLECTOMY.pdf

ENTUK: Commissioning Guide: Tonsillectomy. https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/healthcare-bodies/docs/published-guides/tonsillectomy